Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 Review

Reviewed by: Howard Carson and Ron Burgess, October 2010
Published by: Xara Group Limited
Requires: Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7
MSRP: US$89.99

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The software formerly known as Xara Xtreme has continued its march toward greater recognition by the photo editing and graphic artist crowd with a name change to Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6, and major improvements to usability, user experience and speed. Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 contains a large set of well integrated line and shape graphics tools and photo editing tools which help you move seamlessly between photo editing (including import of all major RAW file formats), drawing and graphic design, web page design and layout, web graphics and good quality print output.



The first thing we look at when reviewing a new release of any Xara product is speed and performance. Our normal first-look was interrupted by the obvious redesign of the user interface - it's now the ever-so-popular neutral gray, has fly-out menus from the tool buttons, and groups control and tool sets together somewhat more efficiently compared to previous versions of the software. Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 remains a fast piece of software, which means the Xara programmers haven't been allowed to sacrifice productivity in favor of feature bloat. Our favorite feature in Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 is the Direct Action tool set. Basically, instead of clicking a tool on the sidebar, you just drag and drop the sidebar tool onto whatever part of a photo or graphic you want to edit with that tool. It's really quite useful, it's very fast, and of course fine-tune adjustments are available immediately.

Vector rendering in Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 remains about the fastest in the business. Font rendering on-screen is quite remarkable, and something that puts Xara far ahead of Adobe Photoshop. No matter what sort of manipulation you do to text on-screen in a Xara file, you'll never see zippering, stairstepping or jagged edges (unlike Photoshop and a number of other graphic design software products).

Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 offers three integrated tool sets: lines, shapes, photos. Taken together, along with automated layering and good basic automated masking, Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 can be a robust photo editor and graphic design program in the hands of a patient user.

All photo editing in Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 is non-destructive. The software also works with reduced/optimized version of full size images in order to speed up your efforts and work with smaller file sizes. When final files are rendered for print output, all the resolution and image detail is still there of course, but getting to that point can be a lot faster when you're working with optimized (smaller) file sizes along the way.

Xara has been touting its improved photo Panorama function lately and with good reason. We threw some poorly aligned panoramic shot sections at the software and it seemed to handle everything quite well, stitching seamlessly and basically dealing with all but the most poorly shot source photos. The panorama feature seems to have been designed to do best with horizontal panoramas consisting of photos with at least a 25% overlap.

Template and project management is integrated to the point where you can add, modify, regroup, delete and configure templates. More important, there are hundreds and hundreds of well-designed templates available (in the Xara Xone online) for very little cost from the Xara web site, in addition to the excellent and large package of templates which is supplied (via separate download if you purchase Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 online) free of charge with the software.


Speed, speed, speed, speed - that's one of the things you get with Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6. The product remains among the fastest-rendering software on the market today. What that means simply is that tasks such as rotating photos or complex vector graphics take place quickly, applications of effects and Direct Action tools take place very quickly, and redraws of photos and graphics take place almost instantaneously.

You'll need some time to get used to the user interface in Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6. The praise we give above and below about the Xara programmers not being driven by what Adobe (and other competitors are doing) also means that the user interface contains tools and features which are not always where you expect them to be. For example, the Options selection for setting program defaults is located in the Utilities menu, Create Bitmap Copy is located in the Arrange menu, and Magnetic Snap Radii is located in the Mouse tab rather than the Grid & Ruler tab in the Options menu. There are a few more anomalies like those, which can occasionally slow you down until you become familiar with the software.

User interface quibbles aside, the Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 must be used regularly in order to become your go-to software for photo editing. That aspect of the software is about the only way in which it emulates Adobe Photoshop. In other words, if you're considering Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 primarily as your main photo editing software, in our opinion it will take you longer to come up to speed than it will using the much more expensive Adobe Lightroom or the competitively priced ACDSee Pro. Once you've become familiar with Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 though, it will prove to be much more versatile than either Lightroom or ACDSee Pro.

Getting basic things done using tools we take for granted in other products can occasionally be laborious in Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6. The most obvious example is Cloning. There is no clone tool of any kind in Xara. Instead, you have to cut out a section of a photo or other object, mask it, shift the background around to hide whatever it is you're trying to get rid of, then feather the edges of the clipped area in order to hide the change. It's cumbersome, obviously, and seems a throwback to the bitmap editors of 1995. The graphic design-dedicated Xara Designer Pro 6 offers Content Aware features similar in some respects to that same functionality in Photoshop CS5, so we're a bit mystified why programming as comparatively simple as cloning hasn't yet appeared in Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6.

Using Xara templates is one of the best ways to get started learning Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6. We had an absolute blast with the calendar templates, web page templates and the real estate(?!) templates. They're all really well done and will have you absorbed creating professional looking content very quickly.

What surprised us most of all was Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6's print output. In a word, it's powerful. The software does not quite offer the top-notch professional output power of the Xara Designer Pro 6, but everything else in the print output engine rivals that found in all the best consumer and semi-pro software (including Photoshop Elements, Corel PaintShop Pro, ACDSee Pro and so on).


Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 is not meant to be an Adobe Photoshop killer. In fact, Xara is quite unique in the marketplace because it has been evolving quietly over the years, shepherded by a bunch of good programmers who haven't felt the need to copy Adobe's efforts. Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 has been well thought out and appears to be stable under a variety of contemporary versions of Windows including XP, Vista and Windows 7. Xara is inexpensively priced and with its comprehensive, great quality tool set represents excellent value. The only glaring omissions from Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 are a clone tool and RAW editing. But at US$89.99 you really can't go wrong.

Cons: Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 is still way behind the curve in content management. While competing products such as Photoshop (all current versions of CS, Elements and Lightroom) and ACDSee Pro (all current versions) continue to expand image and graphics viewing, organization, cataloging and searching, Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 is still without any sort of robust content management system. It's a big absence and one that will likely turn off some prospective customers. Cloning is missing - a key feature for all photo editing in particular, and something which simply can't be equalled by the bitmap clip/mask/move technique currently available in the software to sort of/kind of emulate the effect of proper cloning. RAW file import is just that - there are no RAW editing tools, which is another big miss these days. Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 appears to be able to import every current RAW file out there as of this writing, but it converts all imported RAW files to a native Xara .xar format. All you can do with .xar files is save them as high resolution JPG files for further editing - you can't edit your RAW files in any way. Another big miss for Xara, and something the company will have to deal with, along with cloning and content management features if Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 is to remain competitively viable in the marketplace.

Pros:As mentioned above, Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 is speedy. A short familiarization period will have you up and running very quickly. Xara provides a large set of tutorial videos online. Watch them all, because they're clearly done and because there's nothing quite like a video tutorial which is well written and on-point to help you understand things and come up to speed quickly. Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 is a great alternative to many other products currently available. Is it a poor person's Photoshop? Not really, because Xara has created a very useful and versatile product without resorting to the copy-cat approach. Is Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 a replacement for Lightroom, ACDSee Pro and other dedicated photo editing products and their corresponding content management systems? No again, because Xara has created Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 to be a more generally useful tool with a solid and professional template foundation. We had a lot of fun with the panorama feature, the calendar templates in particular, and surprisingly the web design and layout features. The graphic design tools are good too - well conceived and obviously mature (after all, Xara has been at this for many years now) - but Kickstartnews readers seem more oriented toward digital photography and web design, so that's where our heads are at as well. Despite our misgivings about the absence of content management, cloning and RAW file editing, Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 is what it says it is and does its work well. As such, Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 gets our recommendation.

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